James on Trials part nine

10 Jan

It’s good to endure trials because of what God will do for those who endure.

It’s good to endure because when your trials come to an end, God will reward you, if you have persevered. You will receive a crown of life.

Just knowing that our trials are going to have an end helps us endure. Whenever you are in a trial, you need to remember this is only for a short while. Your trial won’t last forever.

That thought helped me make it through so many basketball practices growing up, “I won’t have to be running these laps forever. Coach can only torture me for a couple more hours. I can make it because there is an end.”

People sometimes say something was like hell on earth. And I understand what they mean. But even if the pain they are experiencing could somehow be compared to the pain experienced in hell, it would be nowhere close to as terrible as the pain in hell because here on earth pain fades. There’s an end to the trial. If trials did go on forever, they’d be much more difficult to endure. You’d have no hope of relief. That’s one of the things that makes hell so awful. The pain will never fade away. It goes on forever and ever.

It’s good to remember trials have an end, but James’ is saying more than merely that.

We need to ‘keep persevering because God is going to reward you when your trials do come to an end.’ “…for once he has been approved, he will receive…” As Christians we have hope because God’s made a promise to us. “The Lord has promised [this reward] to those who love him.” It’s that hope that enables us to persevere.

If you think James is talking about enjoying the pain for the pain’s sake, you are missing the point. Christian’s don’t rejoice in the pain itself. They rejoice in the results. They know the trial will end and they are looking forward to what they are going to receive from God after they’ve been approved.

The Christian life is full of joy and exultation because we have something to look forward to. It’s not just a “grin and bear it” kind of life, because as James says, “God makes a promise to those who love Him. They are going to receive the crown of life.”

Most of us think of “a gem-studded headpiece worn by kings and queens” when we think of the word crown. “But people in the Greco-Roman world would probably have thought more often of the laurel wreath given to victors in athletic contests…” In our Olympics we hand out gold medals, they handed out laurel wreaths. “James probably has this imagery in view, since the victory of a trained and disciplined athlete in a race is a fitting image for the reward that God bestows on those who remain faithful to him over the long and often difficult race of life.”

This crown consists of life. James is talking about eternal life. This life is not all there is. There’s an eternity to look forward to. God promises eternal life to those who persevere.

This crown of life is a great reward. It’s worth enduring for.

If we are going to persevere in trials we must fix in our minds that heaven, eternity and the reward God promises those who endure is far better than any reward we might possibly receive by compromising. We have to think long and hard about how superior heaven and eternal life and the promises of God are to anything else in this life. We must learn to compare our suffering with our hope.

If there’s anybody you learn that from, it’s the apostle Paul.

You look at Paul’s life and you think how could this guy do it? Beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, hated, mocked, persecuted, what kept him from giving up. One answer is found in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” That’s why Paul didn’t give up. He realized that whatever pain he had to endure in this life could never compare to the joy he would experience in the life to come.

One of the reasons this crown of life is so much better than anything on earth is because it is eternal. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:16-19, “Therefore we do not lose heart because though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen but at the things which are not seen, for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

Everything you get here, you lose. But that’s not true of what God promises those who persevere. The crown of life will last forever.

This crown that God promises those who endure is better than anything on this earth because it is untainted by sin. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 1:4 that our inheritance is “imperishable, and undefiled and will not fade away.” Sin has affected everything here on earth. It’s like a rust that slowly corrupts even the best of things. There’s no sin in heaven. It’s a perfect place. Life in heaven is so much better than life here on earth. In heaven God will be our shepherd, he shall guide us to the springs of the water of life, and He will wipe every tear from our eyes. (Rev.7:17)

The crown of life is better than fame. Which is really more valuable, being known and loved by a bunch of human nobodies or being known and loved by the Creator of the Universe?

The crown of life is better than money. Money can’t satisfy and money doesn’t last. “The person who loves money will not be satisfied with money and he who loves abundance with its income.” (Ecc.5:10) But in heaven we will be satisfied. We will experience perfect contentment. Besides that, the riches of this earth can’t even compare to the riches of heaven.

The crown of life is better than your sinful lusts. Lust actually wages war against your soul. You think by feeding it you are going to bring yourself pleasure, when in reality, by feeding your lusts you are destroying yourself.

The crown of life is better than even the absence of conflict or peace here on earth. You can do everything to avoid conflict here on earth, but you are not going to be able to do so because we live in a sinful world. And as long as there are sinners, there will be conflict. There’s no conflict in heaven. Heaven is as Jonathan Edwards describes it, ‘a world of love.’

This crown of life is “so worth” the short period of pain and suffering we might have to endure before we receive.
There will be times when you are tempted to give up, to do what is easy and sin, and that’s when this verse has to come flooding back to your mind, you must think about eternity.

As you look at Scripture, it’s this future focus that motivated Christians to live lives of all out obedience to Christ.

There’s a beautiful illustration of that in Hebrews 10. The writer of Hebrews is writing to a group of professing believers who are being tempted to give up. They started the Christian life well, but now are experiencing great trials, and are on the verge of compromising. So he reminds them of how they responded to trials when they first became Christians.

“For you showed sympathy to the prisoners, and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property…” (v.34) Can you picture the scene? Their homes are being taken away, their stuff is being stolen, but they are not devastated, no they are accepting joyfully the seizure of their property.

That word joyfully is what gets me. This is a living illustration of what James is calling us to: refusing to compromise, refusing to give up, and obeying with joy.

You look at this verse and you ask how can this be? The answer: “knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one.” They were able to endure, and to do so with joy, because they were looking to the future.
John Piper writes, “…these early Christians were aliens and exiles whose true home was in heaven and in the age to come with Jesus. That world was so real to them and so precious that they did the unthinkable, ‘they joyfully accepted the seizure of their property…’ There’s only one explanation for this joy: they really believed it. They were enlightened by God to see it. They believed two things about their possession in heaven: one that it is better…and the other that it is abiding. In other words they really believed that this world is inferior and this world is temporary. The one to come is superior and the one to come is eternal. These were not words, they were realities. They were so real that when the house and the furniture and the clothes and the books burned, and the horses were stolen they knew…that God was actually preparing them for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…The key to their joy in the midst of danger and loss was simply that they did not put much stock in this world. They had been transferred into the kingdom of God’s Son. They had passed from death to life. Their lives were hid with Christ in God. They two things that everybody wants they had found – but not in this world. Everybody wants the best happiness possible and the longest happiness possible. This is what the words ‘better and abiding’ point to. They had a better possession and an abiding one. And the possession they had was a place at God’s side in glory. “In your presence is fullness of joy and at your right hand are pleasures forevermore…” Full and forever. Better and abiding.”

It’s this hope that motivated all our Christian heroes. In Hebrews 11 the writer describes men like Noah and like Abraham who made some incredible sacrifices. The world would look at men like Abraham and Noah and say what are you doing? Why are you making these sacrifices? Do you just enjoy pain?

No, these men endured, they made sacrifices, why? “For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is they desire a better country that is a heavenly one…” (v.14-16) If they had been focusing on the things of this world they would have given up. They wouldn’t have endured. But they did endure because they were looking forward to something better.

The ultimate example for us is Christ Himself. Hebrews 12:1,2, “Therefore since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God…” How’d Jesus endure the worst trial anyone has ever experienced? For the joy set before Him he endured the cross.

James is telling us that we need to do the same. You will experience trials. You will be tempted to quit. But when that happens, remember James 1:12, remember how good it is to endure. “Blessed is a man who endures because once he has been approved he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him…”

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